Jesus becomes for Paul the standing image of “Everyman” who both reveals and identifies with humanity in all its stages, and even reveals the trajectory of all history–at its beginning, at its lowest points, and at its fulfilled end. Jesus, the Christ, illustrates “The One, Single New Man” (Ephesians 2:15), an Archetype, a Stand-In, a Corporate Personality, a Living Icon for all of humanity all at once (1 Corinthians 15:21-28, 45-49; Romans 5:15-21, 8:3; Colossians 3:10-11; Ephesians 2:15-22). In fact, I would say that this is one of the most central and yet one of the most undeveloped insights of Paul. Its neglect has made Christianity into another competing religion instead of a universal map for the humanity of any and all peoples.
Here is the map of the pattern which is true both for Jesus and for each human being:
1) At the beginning, in both Jesus and you, the soul is already one with God. Just as Jesus is the Son of God, you also are a son or daughter of God from your conception. The big difference is that Jesus’ unique and “only begotten” sonship includes you along with everyone and everything else. He is the full Includer, the very fullness of all inclusion. You and I are the included. Yet this divine conception is hidden, even and most especially from you.
2) There is a moment, or several of them (Jesus’ baptism experience, Peter’s “Confession,” the Transfiguration) where Jesus “gets it,” just as we often do when we are really listening. But we do not always listen deeply, we forget our truth, or even deny it; whereas Jesus never denies his deep identity, and always listens to God perfectly (John 8:26,28b). That is precisely what defines and reveals his unique divinity. Jesus’ inclusivity means that he believes for us, with us, through us, and in us.
3) Even the Gospels seem to jump over Jesus’ thirty years of uneventfulness, paralleling midlife for most of us, during which all the seeds are planted for a later sprouting. Jesus increasingly encounters many human trials and hostility, just as most human lives do if lived with integrity. He thus identifies with humanity at its lowest point, in the place of rejection, betrayal, immense suffering, and even crucifixion. That’s the bottom, the place of powerlessness, the place of emptiness as the separate ego allows itself to die, the place where transformation usually happens. Here God says to all of humanity, through Jesus: “I’m with you. I understand. You are not in the least alone.” And this lowest point is in fact the beginning of the highest point, as a new symbiotic relationship begins between the soul and God.
4) At such a low point, you are one step away from either enlightenment or from despair. Without faith that there is a Bigger Pattern and choosing to surrender to that Bigger Pattern, most people will move into despair, negativity, or low-level cynicism. You need a promise, an assurance, a hopeful direction, a future outcome revealed at this point, or it is very hard not to give up. You have not yet learned what transformation feels like or looks like. Someone–perhaps some loving human or simply God’s own embrace–needs to hold you now because you cannot hold yourself. When you experience this radical holding, and even deep loving, this is salvation!
5) Jesus reveals and identifies with the final chapter of the human journey at its promised and now fulfilled form. He becomes the goal personified–the Risen Christ! This is where we are all heading: to resurrection. What humanity fears, hates, destroys, pollutes, kills, and crucifies (which is the plot of almost all who have ever lived), God promises to transform and raise up. Every springtime reveals that “life is not ended but merely changed,” which is what we say in the funeral liturgy.
6) And ultimately, again almost quietly and unrecognized, the circle comes to completion in what we call the Ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:9-11). We all return where we first started, with the great school of life and death ushering us back home. (Yet, the full text always holds out the very real possibility that we can refuse this journey. Otherwise we are not free. “Hell” is the universal metaphor for this necessary possibility.)
The disciple John shares in this Life Map understanding of Jesus, and says it in condensed form in this way: “My dear people, we are already the children of God. . . . All I know is that when the whole pattern is revealed, we shall all be like him” (1 John 3:2).
Adapted from Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, disc 10 (CD)